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Leeds is leading the way as a new Caterpillar App is trialled in the city to support healthier habits

Aug 9, 2022

An innovative new App designed to reduce health inequalities has been launched as a pilot scheme across Leeds today.

The Caterpillar App has been hailed by Tom Riordan, CEO of Leeds City Council, as a potential ‘gamechanger’ during the cost-of-living crisis. The App aims to engage those who might not be able to afford monthly gym memberships.

Backed by two-time Olympic gold medallist and public health advocate, Alistair Brownlee, the Caterpillar App, aims to encourage small steps that could lead to big changes.

It works by rewarding achievable small daily changes, such as increasing our daily steps or making healthy changes to our dietary habits.

Alistair Brownlee, who attended the launch today, said: “As an athlete, I know how important good nutrition and being active is to a healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to live well. I’m passionate that no matter what your age or ability, you can make tiny changes each day that will improve your wellbeing. Caterpillar offers some great rewards to encourage those changes and hopefully, help more people discover their amazing benefits – not just for themselves, but their loved ones, and wider society.”

Working with Leeds City Council, Caterpillar aims to demonstrate the effectiveness of the App in Leeds and evidence user engagement. Its ambition is to have large population-level outcomes, helping to prevent avoidable ill-health, such as obesity, Type-2 diabetes, heart failure and common cancers.

Caterpillar chief executive and founder Paul Baverstock said: “We’re using Nobel Prize-winning behavioural science techniques to help people create healthy habits that stick. This isn’t for those who set extreme fitness challenges or track every calorie, it’s for those who might struggle to engage with and make small and important changes in their lives.”

Caterpillar connects to health Apps, such as Google Fit and Apple Health, and sets personalised physical activity goals. It uses the latest expert information to help people make choices about their dietary habits.  This is linked to a reward scheme, so users earn points for making better choices every day. Points can currently be redeemed for Vue Cinema tickets and Hussle gym passes. 

The Leeds-based health-tech start-up recently received £450,000 funding from investors, including venture capital firm Jenson Funding Partners, to expand its range of loyalty schemes and add new features to the app.

Caterpillar is based at Leeds University and was incubated by the Leeds City Council’s BUILD programme in 2021. The technology has the backing of world-leading behavioural scientists and academics, including Professor Marc Mitchell of Western University Canada and Professor Stuart Flint of Leeds University; both will evaluate the Leeds pilot.

    Paul said: “Piloting Caterpillar in Leeds is a no-brainer. Leeds not only has the fastest growing digital economy outside of London, but it’s pioneering in tackling health inequalities, is home to world-leading universities and one of Europe’s biggest teaching hospitals.”

    Caterpillar’s team include alumni of a Canadian behaviour change app, Carrot Rewards, which won the OECD Innovation Prize at the 2018 World Government Conference. Caterpillar builds on that innovation for the UK market.

    Founder Paul Baverstock is a communications specialist with a focus on health policy. Past roles include Digital Director of Strategic Communications for the NHS, and Director of Communications for the Conservative Party.

    Paul said: “We’re using proven tech and science to improve the health of the population – starting here in Leeds – to reduce the pressure and cost on the NHS. Many common conditions are preventable with simple lifestyle changes, from sleep and mood disorders to Type 2 diabetes, to some cancers and heart disease.”

    Caterpillar will be initially launched to Leeds residents and employees of Leeds City Council this month, with a view to extending the app across the UK.

    It is also partnering with Dietary Assessment Ltd, the company behind myfood24 – a leading diet monitoring and nutritional analysis software used for healthcare, research and education. Originally created at the University of Leeds, myfood24 uses the latest scientific evidence and robust methodologies to help users understand more about their diet, empowering them make healthier food choices.

    Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council said, “We’re proud to back digital innovation coming out of Leeds, especially a start-up like Caterpillar that could have huge positive social impact. The idea of promoting healthy choices and changes to physical activity and dietary habits aligns with our own ambitions to give the people of Leeds healthy and fulfilling lives.”

    Health incentives are currently being trialled by governments around the world, including here in the UK. Under the leadership of AirMiles founder Sir Keith Mills, the Department of Health and Social Care are actively trialling a health incentives policy, with users being rewarded, as with Caterpillar, for physical activity with loyalty points, tickets and discounts. This is part of the UK’s policy push to address avoidable ill health, including obesity.

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